By Terry Trucco
I love design shows, and this is one of my favorites. (Full disclosure: I moderated the show’s New York Times design seminars, but I’d love it anyway.)
What’s not to love? Top-flight designers like Ralph Lauren, Rauber + Rauber, David Rockwell and Vincente Wolf fashioned glamorous table settings for DIFFA’s annual Dining by Design exhibition. More than 100 artists showed their work in the new Artist’s Project at the adjoining Pier 92. Restaurants like Eataly, Junoon, Print at Ink48 hotel and Make my Cake sent chefs to demonstrate – and pass around — everything from Italian delicacies to cupcakes.
And if you attended all nine design seminars, like I did, you’d have learned that colors look boldest against neutrals (thank you, Jamie Drake, James Rixner and Amy Lau), how to present art in a room (merci, Vincente Wolf, Eric Cohler and Frances D’Haene), that new skinny tiles can cover up outdated tile work (cheers to Robin Wilson) and how crowd sourcing is affecting architecture and design (check out Matthias Hollwich’s cool Architizer Web site).
The heart of the show are the booths showcasing the latest appliances, furniture and designs in lighting, custom framing, you name it from big-name companies like Sub-Zero, Miele, Ligne Roset andMitchell Gold + Bob Williams. Gorgeous stuff. But I found the show’s 150 artisans who make one-of-a-kinds and customize irresistible. Here’s what caught our eye – and yes, we even found some hotel connections.
Distinctly Dublin It was planned as a black and white cocktail cabinet. But given the client’s purple and pink house, Zelouf + Bell, Dublin-based custom cabinet-makers, dyed African koto wood purple (left). Drama distinguishes Z + B’s singular designs, not surprising since designer Susan Zelouf was once an actress. Inspiration is everywhere, it seems. The arching base of their showpiece Span Table? Dublin’s Span Bridge. The thick, curved supports of a Macassar ebony desk? Stonehenge. Their favorite New York hotel? Ink48 – “When they forgot our wake up call, they sent up a bottle of wine,” Susan says.
Precision Porcelains Justin Teilhet, a porcelain artist, works in Yellow Springs, Ohio, but his simple, timeless porcelain vases evoke Asian celadon. Porcelain facilitates his vibrant reds, greens and whites (yes, white can be vibrant). His hotel connection? A designer for New York’s new Setai hotel saw Teilhet’s work at last year’s show and ordered up 500 pieces. Result: his porcelains, customized for the hotel, are in every Setai guest room and the bar.
Brooklyn Cool A self-described “wood nerd” at Rhode Island School of Design, Matthew Fairbank designed furniture for – hotel connection coming — Starwood Hotels and Resorts upon graduation. But longing to create heirloom and one-of-a-kind pieces, he opened his Williamsburg studio in 2005, taking a part-time job to make ends meet. The result: timeless contemporary furniture, expertly crafted, ripe with abstract references (consider his supremely elegant round-backed chair).
In the Round All it takes is an idea. A glass blower for 19 years, Palo Alto native Kanik Chung has blown vases and bowls for nine years in his Brooklyn studio. But his booth at the show displayed just one item – sparkling disks of hand-blown window glass enhanced with bubbles and silver. His disks, ideal as wall hangings alone or in groupings, came in various sizes and were, quite simply, gorgeous. And how long has he been making them? “About a month and a half,” he says.
Fancy Faucets We take a break from individual artisans to mention Lefroy Brooks, the British maker of hand-made bathroom fittings based on classic designs, among them the Edwardian 1910s, colonial 20s, Art Deco 30s and minimal 2010s. We’re partial to the streamlined Belle-Aire, based on a 1950s Pontiac hood finial (left). But the 1900 Classic with white ceramic insets proves the perfect complement to the gray marble bathrooms at the Crosby Street Hotel, the only hotel in town we know of equipped with Lefroy Brooks.
Hand-blown Swedish Birch Early in his 17-year career, Jared Davis, a glass blower based in Crawford, Colorado, apprenticed with two glass masters in southern Sweden. Variations in the lichen found on Swedish birch trees inspired the magnificent, one-of-a-kind blown-glass vases in his latest collection. The most stunning pieces are large, heavy and mysterious, with overlapping matte surfaces created by sandblasting. A witty blown-glass chandelier evoking antlers was created by Davis’ wife, Nicole.
That Cabinet is . . . Urethane? Massachusetts furniture maker Bart Niswonger isn’t afraid to use color or unexpected materials in his contemporary furniture. For a pair of bedside cubes he covered the wood surfaces in textured, colored urethane with the textured side reversed on the top to create a smooth surface. From there it was a step away to his urethane cabinet (left), which feels smooth but looks textured and catches the light. “Urethane is a fantastic material, especially the way light passes through,” says Niswonger who quit grad school in computer science to make furniture.
Overlapping Colors It’s fun to watch an artisan evolve. In his third year here, Pablo DeSoto, a glassblower from Penland, North Carolina, showed a new collection, Formas Triple (left) – three-part vases with overlapping colors that call to mind old-style glass coffee makers like the kind seen in Woman of the Year. Attracted to glass from the age of five, DeSoto’s clear and opaque pieces are elegant, upbeat and all about color. Glass breaks, he admits. “But you get over it.”
Ball and Claw Redux For Clint Thorn, a furniture maker in Goshen, Connecticut, the ball and claw foot found in classic furniture was a woodworker’s Everest – something to conquer. Eager to “push it to the limits,” he says, he created his own, tour de force carving for his contemporary-with-a-twist versions of classic English and early American consoles, cabinets and tables. A companion line of tables sport feet shaped like horse hooves.
Seeing Stars (and Spheres) Brooklyn-based sculptor Pamela Sunday came to ceramics “as a grown up,” as she puts it, following a career on Wall Street and as a fashion stylist. But in the ten years she has devoted full time to ceramics, she’s created distinctive work. Her hand-rendered clay atoms, spheres, planets and stars seemingly hail from the depths of the ocean to distant galaxies. Her biggest pieces weigh 35 to 40 lbs. and are, quite simply, stunning.